May-June 2022

When we think of the Paschal season, the hymn “Christ is risen” is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and with good reason: we sing this hymn at every service for the entirety of the season. But it is ofter worth looking deeper into things and that is especially true for the hymnology of the Church. So let us look at another hymn, which is chanted towards the end of most Vespers and Orthros services, which begins to explore what the season means for us in practical terms:

It is the day of the Resurrection. Let us shine brightly for the festival, and also embrace one another. Brethren, let us say even to those who hate us, "Let us forgive everything for the Resurrection." And thus let us cry aloud, "Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life."

We notice that the Paschal apolytikion, Christ is risen, is included in this hymn. However, before we get to that, the first thing that the hymn asks us to do is to shine brightly. Christ told His disciples that although in this world they will have tribulation, they should be of good cheer, because He has conquered the world. Entering into the Resurrection brings a foretaste of the kingdom while we are still on earth; it strengthens the hope we have for those who have departed before us; it grants light to our souls, driving out sin and vice.

The second part of the hymn exhorts us to "embrace one another." The imagery is physical, intimate. The effect of the resurrection in our lives is both practical and emotional. It involves both reaching out to those around us and making space for them in our hearts and lives. In some ways, this is akin to St. Paul's admonition to "bear one another's burdens." As we embrace others and are embraced by them, by God's grace the burdens become lighter and the joys acquire a new fullness. By embracing one another, we imitate Christ, who embraced and recreated humanity through His incarnation; we unite ourselves with them in imitation to the Son of God who united Himself with humanity.

The next part of the hymn talks about forgiveness. In a time of rights, we have a right not to forgive, but doing so severs us from the communion of the Church. The call of the faithful to the Eucharist is "with fear of God, faith, and love, draw near. As St. Paul again reminds us, "love forgives all things." If we do not at least make an attempt to forgive, praying for those who have hurt us, continuing to see in them the image of Christ, and acting towards them without malice, then we would not approach with love and cannot respond to that call. And if Christ's words are true, saying, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (Jn. 6:53, 54), then the cost of our salvation is giving up the right to not forgive.

Only then do we come to the proclamation: "Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down upon death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life." As a statement, this is true, whether we say it or not. However, we are called to not simply say it, but proclaim it. And for us to be able to proclaim it, we need to have taken care of the things which the hymn has talked about already. In order for the resurrection to be more than a beautiful show and for the Paschal greeting to be more than words, we need to enter the life of Christ. 

I hope and pray that the light and beauty of the Resurrection will inspire us and nurture within us a yearning for that unity with Christ in which His life becomes ours.